Let’s face it, cooking can lapse into a necessary burden of tired replays faster than you can say “sauté.” But a simple recipe can turn that around. Add a heaping scoop of information, a generous pinch of drama, and a rounded teaspoon of history, and suddenly your kitchen can feel more like an art studio than a bland factory. Read on for tips on how to refresh your cooking motivation.
First, get a little education. In the old days, you had to allocate money and select time out of your schedule in order to expand your cooking know-how. Now, education is available at the push of a remote or a click of the mouse. Learning a new chop technique, for example, will cut (pun intended) the amount of time you spend prepping your food. Personally, I’d recommend Alton Brown’s Good Eats for excellent education in easy to swallow half hour increments. Your local library will also have great technique books for all levels of chefs in training, and very likely some how-to videos as well.
Second, become a cooking spy. No, we’re not talking real espionage, but keeping your eyes open can benefit you greatly. Love the steaks somewhere? Glance at what they’re doing when you walk past the grill. Make a mental note of the balance of flavors in your favorite salad. Also, explore free recipe sites online. Not only can you find new ways to work some of the same ingredients you always use, but reading the comments at the bottom of the most popular recipes can give great tips. Other cooks out there, most of them regular folks like ourselves, can give great advice on how they tweaked a recipe to enhance the flavor, or turned a side dish into a main event.
Third, remember Mozart. Yes, drawing inspiration from Mozart, we can all perform our own variations on a theme. Take a flavor profile you know and love and expand it. Try adding a little ginger and pineapple to a barbeque sauce you’re making. Or perhaps you will want to finally try that zucchini casserole with basil and tomato sauce. Just take what you know about flavor combinations and bring them to new places.
Fourth, become a cooking star. Bring your kids to the kitchen and inform them of their individual roles as sous chefs. Explain what you are doing, and demonstrate your amazing new techniques and vocabulary. Purchase or make aprons and/or hats to complete the show. Suddenly the kitchen is a fun new place to be.
Fifth, take it easy. I am not inspired to cook every night – in fact I grow to hate cooking when it is something that is demanded or expected of me daily. How I get around this? Frozen dinners, old faithful standbys (i.e. tuna noodle casserole or chicken veggie stir fry), and carry-out phone numbers. Taking a break will actually feed your inspiration, not to mention give you an opportunity to have “leftover night” – a hit in my house.
Sixth, scrapbook via your pots and pans. I can’t make cornbread without remembering my Kentucky visits with my grandma and great-grandma. Pulling out old recipes with their handwriting reconnects me to them. The smells take me back to my childhood, to shelling green beans on a tin-roof porch and feeling connected to a wonderful family. Even if you don’t have these memories, borrow someone else’s grandma. Lots of cookbooks are out there for “old-fashioned cooking”. Using old methods or cookware can bring out inspiration too. I love to find ways to cook from scratch, remembering my grandma’s expansive garden and closeness of her cooking to nature. Also, it’s amazing how things like having your own cast-iron skillet can both reconnect you to your past and refresh your desire to cook. And don’t forget to scrapbook your vacation memories also! If you have travelled, or have a place you’ve always dreamed of visiting, use food as a bridge to that culture. Maybe you won’t tackle the full menu, but picking up some of your favorite spices and recipes is a fabulous connector to that place.
Finally, the most important place I draw inspiration? People! Dishes are a way to say “welcome”, “I love you”, and so much more. I don’t view cooking as only a way to nourish bodies, but as a way to comfort, connect, and nourish feelings as well. Bring your family back to the table. There are few things more deflating to the desire to cook then watching a room full of silent people shove it in while watching TV. Sitting down to dinner is a lost art, I’m afraid, but doing it more often will not only reacquaint you with your family, but also reacquaint you with taste, and revive your cooking spirit.